Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Questioning the Wisdom of Eliminating Al Jazeera TV
HIRAYAMA Kentaro / Journalist

September 14, 2017
US President Donald Trump is seen kicking a wrestler attached with the CNN logo off the ring and punching away – this video, reportedly created by Mr. Trump himself, was broadcast by news organizations including CNN itself, inviting scorn and indignation from those in the media.

That same Mr. Trump toured the Middle East to spur a grand alliance among Sunni nations in the region and the Gulf Coast, including Saudi Arabia, against the terrorist organization ISIS. He singled out the oil-producing country of Qatar for criticism, and immediately following his visit, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, which was also slapped with sanctions including a freeze on its assets. One of the conditions for ending the sanctions was the dissolution of Qatar’s national satellite TV broadcaster Al Jazeera, and this has become the focus of a fracas on par with Mr. Trump’s animosity towards CNN.

In 1996, the BBC was forced to close its Arabic news service due to pressure from the Saudi government and others. Many of the staff laid off by the BBC, including British and other non-Arab nationals, were hired by Al Jazeera, which began broadcasting with full financial backing from the government of Qatar. In the past, TV broadcasters in conservative oil-producing countries had reported only on members of the royal family or heads of state, while ignoring events in neighboring countries and inconvenient news. It was the determination of Sheikh Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, who was seeking change in pursuit of a unique brand of modernization for his country, which was behind the launch of Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera caught the world’s attention at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Three weeks after the incident, Al Jazeera was the first to broadcast a video recorded in the mountainous region of Afghanistan, in which Osama Bin Laden and those who were considered the masterminds virtually claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Shortly afterwards, the US administration under President George Bush launched a military intervention in Afghanistan, and Al Jazeera’s bureau in Kabul was bombed by US Forces. Yet, despite suffering casualties among its staff, the bureau held out and continued reporting. And though it was criticized as a “mouthpiece for terrorists,” there were many who commended its efforts to dig up information in areas that were not easily accessible for Western media.

Two years later in 2003, during the war in Iraq that was started by the same Bush administration, Al Jazeera again lost staff in its Baghdad office to US artillery fire, yet continued to report from the ground. Incidentally, among the online war games sold in the United States, there was even one where the player uses overwhelming force to defeat an Islamic terrorist group and capture its base, which was shown to be none other than Al Jazeera’s broadcasting station.

The hostility with which Saudi Arabia and others in the alliance against ISIS view the Qatari government and Al Jazeera is said to be due to their sympathetic attitude towards terrorist groups, as well as concern that they might incite the masses against conservative Arab states. During the Arab Spring of 2011, Al Jazeera supported the Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi government that toppled President Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, and criticized the subsequent coup d’état by General el-Sisi (currently President).

Within the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council of oil producing Arab nations in the region, Kuwait and Oman have not severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, and are currently working to mediate a reconciliation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. As for Al Jazeera, it has bureaus not only in Iran, which is regarded as an enemy by the Gulf States, but in Israel as well, and though imperfect, aspires to providing objective reporting that emphasizes human rights including the freedom of expression, and democracy. Al Jazeera has been playing its role in communicating the diverse opinions and views in the Arab world, and is a bud that should not be crushed. I hope the United States, which is responsible for instigating the latest fracas, will show some good judgment.

Kentaro Hirano is a former Executive Commentator of the NHK.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

平山健太郎 / ジャーナリスト

2017年 9月 14日








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Questioning the Wisdom of Eliminating Al Jazeera TV